IN THE ZONE
Beyond the Boundaries
December 4, 2011
God has a place he wants us all to experience—a sweet spot known as the zone. And when we place ourselves in the zone, we experience the blessing and potential of a life that stands in marked contrast to others.
In this message, Ed Young shows us one of the easiest ways to get in the zone. And he shows us that when we invest our best, God uses us to reach far beyond the boundaries of our own lives.
When I was a kid I grew up during my whole childhood days really being into basketball, you know. And one of my goals was to palm a basketball. You know what I’m talking about? I think most guys know what I’m talking about. Ladies, to palm a basketball means you hold the basketball out just with your hand, with your fingertips. There’s something cool about that because when you can do that you have better control of the ball, it’s just something that your guy friends will go, “Man, you can palm a basketball! Dude! That’s awesome!”
How many of you can palm a basketball, guys? Be honest. Don’t be lying. I know most of you can walk in… OK how many? A few… a few. Palming a basketball was interesting because when you palm a basketball you’ve gotta spend time with the basketball. As you spend time with the basketball your hands sort of shape like the ball. I don’t play basketball hardly anymore, I did growing up, and what’s so interesting is I can still palm a ball pretty good. But you can tell, I mean used to I could pick it up off the dribble. You know, I’m dribbling and like, boom! See now, I just, I can’t, I’m like, wait a minute. I used to could just go right up off the dribble. There you go. Like that. Used to it was simple. I could go from here to there, right and left palm it. I can’t do it because I don’t spend time trying to palm the basketball like I used to. When you do palm it, though, it strengthens your hands. Get a tight shot here, see? I mean, that’s pretty tough to palm a basketball. Palming a basketball, that’s a lot of fun. Try it at home. It’s good to strengthen your hands and it keeps you nimble and limber.
But also, I learned how to spin the ball on my finger. I mean, that took some time. It took me about a week when I was a kid to learn how to do that. I used to do all these tricks and stuff with my friends, and you know, changing hands and all that. But I’ve really kinda lost it. I used to could do it pretty good. I could do like, oh let me see. What were the tricks I could do? I used to do like that… or that… some of those. Anyway, I spent a lot of time with a basketball, as you can tell.
Everybody close your eyes with me for a second. Every, single person close your eyes. We are going to play an imaginary game right here. All of our campuses if you’re watching by television, just for a second close your eyes and listen to this story.
You’re in Seattle. It’s rainy, it’s cold. And you stop by one of the squillions of coffee bars. You walk in, you smell the coffee. You hear those sounds and people talking back and forth, the barista serving up the drinks. You order your favorite hot beverage, maybe a cappuccino. You sit down by yourself at a little table and you’re looking outside and you’re seeing, just the beauty of the Northwest. And all of a sudden someone walks in and you look and you see kind of a geeky-looking, goofy guy, middle-aged, glassed, kinda pale. And you say to yourself, hmm… he looks sort of disheveled. He orders some coffee. And in your shock and amazement you say to yourself,
“That looks like Bill Gates. Wait a minute, that IS Bill Gates and he’s coming over to my table! What?!” He sits down, extends his hand.
“I’m Bill Gates.” You give him your name… I give him my name and he says,
“May I sit and talk to you?” You go,
“Sure!” Then he says,
“I want to propose a partnership. I just checked my net worth. It’s $56 billion. I want to give you, to donate to you, $56 billion… all of my holdings, all of my money, it’s yours. All I ask you to do is give me a 10th.” So gladly, I know I would without even having to talk to Lisa about it, I would gladly return to him $5.6 billion. We shake hands and he goes,
“Hey, once a year let’s meet here and all you gotta do is just give me a 10th of your earnings off of the billions that I’ve given you.”
Now look at me. Look at the smiles! Was that a great thought? Bill Gates comes up to you and me, out of nowhere, we form this partnership and all we have to do is return to him a 10th… a 10th of all the stuff we have now? Again, I wouldn’t even have to mention that to my wife. I’m in! Everybody here! You’d be an idiot if you said,
“No, let me think about it. Let me talk to my attorneys.” What? It’s Bill Gates!
The Bible is about a business transaction. The Bible, from cover to cover, is about a partnership. In the Garden of Eden you’ve got God doing his part, man doing our part. God told Adam and Eve, this husband and wife team, “Hey, enjoy the garden, manage the garden. It’s yours. I want you to live in the zone, in the blessed place. I’m the blesser, you’re blessed. I want you to be a blessing.” Then God said, “But there’s one tree, it’s my portion. Don’t jack with the tree. Don’t touch the fruit on the tree of knowledge. I’ll keep my end of the deal,” God said, “and you keep yours. Let me have my portion.”
Adam and Eve were like,
“All right, God.” The enemy, slithered up to them, tempted them to walk out of the zone and into this psychedelic optical illusion that leads to a delusion and ultimately destruction. The enemy attacked God’s portion.
“Hey!” he said, “If you eat off of the tree, if you eat that fruit, that fruit that’s so heavy hanging there on the branches, if you eat that fruit you can become like God. You can know good from evil.”
So they stepped out of the zone, out of the blessed place, at the fruit. Most Jewish scholars believe the forbidden fruit was a pomegranate. They ate the fruit and you know the rest of the story. God is a God of the partnership, the God of the business deal. He initiates it, we don’t deserve it. “I want to do business with you,” he says, “I will do my part. You do your part. I will stay in business with you if you do what I tell you to do.”
Lisa and I have been married for almost three decades now. Marriage is great. Marriage is not always the easiest thing, many times it’s the hardest thing. But it can become the greatest thing when we’re willing to work. In other words, when we’re willing to do things that we don’t always feel. We don’t always feel like doing what God tells us to do. Am I the only one? I mean, surely you’re the same way. I mean, I don’t always feel it. If I waited to feel it I’d be all jacked up. I’d be living here and not here.
Lisa and I say frequently, ‘I love you.’ I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you. A lot, we’ve said that. Talk is cheap. You can say that all day and night until the cows come home, but you’ve gotta prove it. Isn’t that right? Guys are like, oh yeah, you know it’s right. The ladies are like, yeah he better prove it! We’ve gotta prove it! Back it up. Talk is cheap, we say. You’ve gotta prove it.
“Adam and Eve,” God said, “I know you love me, you say it. Show me. Prove it. Don’t jack with my portion. Don’t jack with it.” God’s a God of the partnership, the business deal.
In the book of Proverbs 3:5-6 you find a true business proposal. This is sort of the verse, the life verse for our family. It has also been the life verse of my parents and their parents. It’s such a classic, classic section of scripture. If you have your Bibles turn there, Proverbs 3:5-6, right in the middle of the Bible. Psalms, then Proverbs. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and He will you’re your paths straight.” Do you see the business deal right there? Just check it out. Do you see the contract? God says, your part, my part. My side of the bargain, your side of the bargain. Here’s our side of the bargain. Because God is the one who initiates all this. We can’t initiate anything with God. We’re fallen and fallible. We’re self-centered sinners. God’s holy, yet God said, “I want to form a partnership with you.” How off the chain is that? Your side is trust. Trust.
What does the word trust mean? In the literal language it means to lie helpless before God. We’re helpless and hopeless. I’ve tried to be God before of my life, so have you. It doesn’t work. It comes to a point where we say, “OK, God, you’re God, I’m not. I’m toast. I’m nothing without you.” Trust. That’s what it means to have faith and to tryst. We hear a lot these days about trust and we hear about things that are entrusted.
Have you ever thought about what has been entrusted to you and me? The tangible and the intangible, we’re entrusted with stuff. God simply says, “Do you trust me back? Do you trust me back?” Trust in the Lord, that’s our part. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, with the totality of who you are, even when you don’t feel like it. Even when it’s raining and you don’t wanna come to church. Lean not on your own understanding.
What did Eve do? Adam and Eve kinda leaned against that tree of forbidden fruit. They were probably leaning against the tree first, against that trunk, and kinda looked up at the fruit. They didn’t just snatch it, they probably just,
“You know it’s pretty cool shade right here. I like this. Man, I bet that’d be good. Wow! Look at those pomegranates (again, that’s probably what the forbidden fruit was), look at that whoa! They’re so bright and you know they would taste so good! That tart seed and baby let’s don’t touch it!” and then what happened? They began to lean into their own understanding, they turned from trust and that’s when they bit the dust. Would somebody help me rhyme!
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him (that’s trust) and he will make your paths straight.” My deal is just to trust. God, I trust you. I don’t understand it all, I know I don’t always feel it, but I trust you. Then God’s gonna make my paths straight. My marital paths straight, my relational paths straight, my career paths straight, my financial paths straight, my recreational paths straight. Everything God’s gonna make straight! What’s the quickest point from A to B? A straight line! I can go straight into the zone when I trust God.
You’re God, I’m not. You’re the blesser, I’m blessed, I want to be a blessing. Here’s how I screw up. I see my part, I see God’s part, but I wanna do God’s part.
“God, that sounds good, I will make my own paths straight. I’ll forge my own future. I’ll pave my own path. I know what’s best for me.” And it seems so good and sexy and hip and politically correct but the writer of Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right to a man but only leads to destruction.” So the way that seems right in our own understanding will mess us up. God’s ways are higher than man’s ways. They’re better than our ways. He wants us to be blessable to achieve our best, his best for us on planet earth, we’ve gotta trust him.
OK, what does that look like? Let’s unpack that trust. What does that look like? Some of you are going, OK, trust. I trust God for my eternity. I’m going to Heaven, I got a ticket to Heaven, I trust God there. I trust God for peace. I trust God for joy. I trust God for a clear conscience. I trust God to give me guidance. I trust God in these intangible things, I trust him. That’s what trust means. Ed, you’re right.
Trust, though, means something more than just the intangibles. Trust also means the tangible. There are 500 verses, for example if you’re a statistician, on faith and prayer in the scriptures, 500. There are 2,000 verses on money and possessions. Now let me say that again. Think about it. Only 500 verses, only 500, about faith and prayer. A pretty big subject. Four times as many verses, 2,000 about money and possessions! The tangible. Uh! I wish that wasn’t in the Bible. Am I the only one? Money matters to me, it matters to you, too. Why does God always have to talk about money and the tangibles and treasure? We think about making money, don’t we. We think about investing money, protecting money, saving money. We think about our crazy economy. Money, money, money, money. Money’s personal. Money is not bad, in and of itself. The love of money is the root of all evil. Money!
Well now God, in his word, talks about this. Here’s what trust looks like. Let’s continue Proverbs 3:9-10. I’m not making this stuff up. Here’s God, here’s our part. “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of your crops…” That’s my part. OK, what does trust look like? I honor you, God, with my wealth. Everybody has a certain-sized pile of pomegranates. Some have a tiny pile of pomegranates. Pomegranates are leaving very, very quickly. Others have a medium-sized pile of pomegranates. Others, maybe you have a big ole honkin’ pile of pomegranates. It doesn’t matter, we all have pomegranates. “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops.” That’s my part. All right. God’s part… “then your barns (if we honor the Lord and trust him with our stuff), then your barns will be filled to overflowing, your vats will brim over with new wine.” I like that.
I trust, God makes my paths straight. What does trust look like? I honor God with the first fruits of my gain. I bring it to God.
Here’s the deal. God does not want something from you, he wants something for you. I don’t want something, as a pastor, from you, I want something for you. I want you, I want to (along with you), to live in the zone. When you read this don’t think, “Oh, man, God… I guess he wants my money.” Are you kidding me? God’s not saying,
“Wow, it’s been pretty tough in Heaven. The economic indicators are going south. I really need her first fruits and his first fruits. If he would bring it, man it would be… No! It’s God. We trust, God blesses, he makes our paths straight. We honor him, we’re just bowled over with blessings, with the first fruits of our wealth.
1… 2… 3.. 4… are these 10 pomegranates? Yeah, there are 10 pomegranates here. The pomegranate, again, most Jewish scholars think was the forbidden fruit. So I guess if I bring my 10th to God, then everything is cool. So I just look around, all right. This one is kinda messed up a little bit. It’s OK, it’s still a 10th, I will bring this to God, to his house.
Question: Is that the first fruit? Answer: No.
Question: Is that the tithe? Answer: No. It’s great, it’s a 10th but it’s not the tithe. God is a God of the first. He sent his firstborn, Jesus, as his tithe. Where did he direct his tithe? To the church. God says to tithe the first day of the week. The Christian church moved the first day of the week from Saturday to Sunday, the resurrection day. Everyone here we tithed this week. This is the first day of the week. We have given it to God, he’s gonna bless this week. God’s a God of the first.
You come home from work, husbands, wives, the first four or five minutes sets the course. That first little bit of time sets it for the rest of the evening. Am I talking too rapidly? God is a God of the first. Only the first has the power to redeem the rest. My tithe is when I’m paid, or in this context the crops are harvested, my first fruits, my first. My first, before I can count the other nine. My first goes to God. That’s trust. That’s faith. That’s like, “God, you better show up, I mean, I haven’t even got the other nine yet!” We bring it to God.
We’re honoring God with the first fruit, the first portion, the first part of our gain. And here’s what God does. He takes your tithe and mine. It doesn’t matter if you are tithing $10 or $10 million, it doesn’t matter. Everybody can play. He takes it, opens it, what’s inside? Say it loud! Seeds! Seeds are inside! So God takes your tithe and mine and multiplies it. Then on top of that he takes the seeds and sows them back into the life of the sower. That’s the zone. That’s the blesser, the blessed, and the blessings as we bring (not give…we’re not giving, we’re not giving!)… we bring it to God.
Bill Gates, again, is not even a factor in God’s economy. What? $56 billion? Nothing! Nothing to God. He proposes a deal sweeter than that, sweeter than the coffee bar in Seattle, God does, with you and me.
“I will stay in business with you if you stay in business with me. If you just return a 10th of what I’ve blessed you with.”
What did Eve do? Well, I will tell you what Eve did. Eve took the pomegranate and basically she was palming the pomegranate. She had a vice grip on it. And a lot of people have a vice grip on God’s portion, on the first. We’re just palming it like I palmed that basketball. We worked for it and we worked on it and the veins are sticking out and we’re palming the pomegranate. I’m not gonna give it… I’m not gonna bring it! And then we take the pomegranate, we palmed it so much it just split open. We sit down and we eat God’s portion. That’s what Eve did. That’s what Adam did. That’s what the enemy attacks. He went after God’s portion. He went after God’s portion.
We eat the tithe, we’re under a curse, the Bible says. We bring the first, we’re in the zone, in the blessed place.
Now you understand why Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is (this is Jesus talking), that’s where your heart is.” And I’m like, why? Such drudgery just nails me every time. Why? One out of six verses in the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are about possessions. Sixteen out of Christ’s 38 parables are about money. Why? It’s not just money. Where my treasure is, that’s where my heart is. He didn’t say where my time is. I wish he would have said that. He didn’t say where my talents lie. He said, “No, Ed, where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is.” And take me being a pastor aside, for 30 years Lisa and I have faithfully brought the tithe, the first fruit of our income, to the house. Faithfully we have done that. Our treasure. And many times we have not felt like it.
Where my treasure is, that’s where my heart is. So it’s treasure, that’s the key. It’s a treasure chest. When my treasure is in the house, my time follows and my talent follows. God never says, “Hey, tithe your time. Tithe your talents.” It’s about treasure. It’s about treasure.
And the prophet Malachi even hammers this home once again. In Malachi 3:8-9, he says, “Hey will a man rob God?..” Have you ever been ripped off before? I have. Anyone ever stolen something from you? I have. You ever been in a business deal where someone has stolen from you? A business transaction, a partnership, someone you trusted turned on you? Oh yeah, we all have.
“Will a man rob God? You rob me.”
“How do we rob you God?”
“In tithes and offerings. You’re under a curse, the whole nation of you. Why? You’re robbing me.” And here’s where God gives us permission to test him, it’s the only time in scripture. God says,
“OK, test me… test me! I’m gonna challenge you. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. I know you’re wanting to palm your pomegranate. Let it go.”
Because when we let it go, look. Now we’re ready to receive. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse so there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of Heaven.” OK, do I want the floodgates of Heaven open or closed? Blessing or cursing? What do you think? And God will pour out so much blessing, the tangible and intangible favor of God, that you will not have enough room for it. That’s the God challenge.
So this whole situation is up to you and me. The quickest way from A to B is the treasure test. Where my treasure is, that’s where my heart is. Where my heart is, that’s where my time and talents lie. And I want to thank so many of you for your generosity, for your heart, in this matter. And it’s my sincere prayer that some of you who have never done this will begin to do this. If this is your church where you’re getting fed, it goes here. If you’re watching this online or by television, wherever, it goes to your local church.
Basketball. I mean, are you palming and trying to eat the tithe? Or have you released it, brought it to God in the blessed place?
[Ed leads in closing prayer.]